MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Prosecutors preparing for a federal civil rights trial later this month say they will present evidence that shows a West Virginia sheriff accused of beating a bank robbery suspect has abused his power before -- and gotten away with it.
Documents filed in U.S. District Court in Martinsburg show that the evidence includes testimony Jefferson County Sheriff Robert Shirley gave during a 2004 sentencing hearing in an unrelated case. A transcript reveals Shirley admitted firing a gun while on duty during a personal dispute with another man.
That transcript, which shows the shooting never resulted in criminal charges or prosecution, "is evidence of defendant's readiness to abuse the power of his position,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Camilletti wrote in a notice filed with the court last week.
Shirley's attorney, Kevin Mills, said he is reviewing the government's motion and will respond with his own.
Besides ignoring Shirley's "long history of dedicated community service, putting his life on the line,'' Mills said, the filing could compromise his client's right to a fair trial.
"We believe it relates to inadmissible evidence that is alleged to have occurred decades ago,'' he said, "and whether or not it's admitted to the jury it has now -- through the press coverage -- tainted the potential jury pool for fair and unbiased jurors.''
Prosecutors could have opted for a closed filing, Mills said, to let the court rule on admissibility of the evidence "but for reasons unknown to the defense, they chose not to.''
Shirley is accused of kicking and stomping Mark Daniel Haines after a December 2010 police chase and falsifying records during a subsequent investigation.
Judge John Preston Bailey has scheduled Shirley's criminal trial for Jan. 22 in Martinsburg. A separate civil lawsuit is tentatively scheduled to be tried this fall.
Shirley, who was re-elected in November, has denied any wrongdoing and vowed that he will be vindicated. Haines, meanwhile, is serving a 19-year sentence for bank robbery.